Why egg-droppin’ bunnies and the resurrection of Christ are linked
Easter is one of the most colorful holidays of the year. No holiday matches its pastel spectrum and emphasis of floral patterns; it’s an anthophile’s dream (unless you’re Miranda Priestly from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’). We get these associations from the commercial (and by extension, cultural) representation of the season and holiday. Easter is a time where we can kick off our winter boots and breathe in the blooming flowers (for those of us who aren’t slapped in the face with allergies, that is). It is also a time of spirituality and worship. Indeed, it’s considered by many to be the most significant holiday in the world’s biggest religion (2.2 billion people). Easter celebrates the linchpin event of the Christian faith — the resurrection of Christ.
There’s a lot of confusion about the origins of the holiday, leaving many to scratch their heads and wonder where egg-pooping bunnies came from or why bedazzling eggs became our traditions in paying homage to the miracle of Christ. But, once you connect the dots, the connection is intuitive.
We can start with the word Easter and its origins. For the answer to that, we turned to assistant professor, Dr. Justin Marc Smith from Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies.
“Easter, in its current Christian form, is the celebration or remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead,” said Smith. “The mainstream belief is that Jesus was dead and in a tomb for parts of three days and then bodily raised from the dead and brought back to (new) life.”
Alright, we’re with you. Still, the word “Easter” does not actually appear in the Bible. “Easter” is derived from the Greek word Pascha; its Hebrew equivalent is Pesach, which coincides with Jewish Passover. However, Smith says that the word and translation are an “anachronism” (professor speak for ‘out-of-date’). The word Pascha is mentioned in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 5:7:
Clean out the yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ has been sacrificed.
1 Corinthians 5:7
Some scholars point to this passage as the connection between the celebration of Easter and Jesus as the sacrificial Passover lamb. However, there is no direction mention of Easter in the Bible, and Easter comes after Passover.
Easter is a moving holiday, meaning there is no fixed time for it to take place (that’s why it’s always on a Sunday). That’s because its origins are connected to the lunar calendar, which lent the holiday its nickname as “The Moveable Feast.”
“It [Easter] is a ‘moveable feast’ because it has no set date on the liturgical calendar,” explained Smith. “Easter moves around the [Georgian] calendar based on the lunar calendar. It appears that there was some dissatisfaction with the use of the Jewish calendar to calculate when Easter should fall on a yearly basis… Essentially after Passover, because that’s how it seems to fall in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.”
According to Smith, it was the Council of Nicea (the first ecumenical council of the Christian church) declared that Easter would not be determined by the Jewish calendar for the sake of consistency within in the church. Therefore, Easter followed Passover.
As for the name, “Easter,” is believed to have German roots, where Easter is associated with spring and fertility goddess, “Eostre,” (whose animal symbol was…you guessed it…a bunny). Okay… But what about the eggs and chicks? According to history.com, the egg-decorating tradition was incorporated sometime in the 1700s by German immigrants. In their folklore, there’s an egg-laying hare named “Osterhase” (or “Oschter Haws”) that delivers Easter eggs to children.
And the egg painting? People have been decorating eggs for thousands of years across a variety of cultures.
In 2010, archaeologists recovered ostrich eggs in South Africa with decorative engravings that are believed to be more than 60,000 years old. But as far as a holiday tradition, that got weaved in around the 13th century. As Christianity expanded in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages, some of the practices and tradition of conquered pieces were integrated into Christian practices (because the inherent fun of decorating eggs is obvious, let’s keep doing it). What was once an ancient symbol for new life turned into a Christian representation of Jesus’ resurrection and new beginnings — and the connection was intuitive enough.
However you celebrate Easter, there’s one thing you should know: Always east the chocolate bunny from the ears down. And maybe add a little tradition of your own — now that we know that we adopt old traditions, maybe someday your custom will become standard. Perhaps it’s not a bad thing, mixing the old with the new.
“Collective memory and tradition are powerful,” added Smith. “So sometimes we take older traditions and breathe new life and new meaning into them. It’s not always a bad thing. It helps to have a greater sense of where the traditions start. So, sometimes we ‘re-appropriate’ older traditions and give them new meaning.”
Now pass that honey-baked ham.